United States President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Jan 30 in which he said: “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy and our values.” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier last month in the Summary of 2018 National Defense Strategy: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in the US national security”. It also says “long-term strategic competition from China and Russia is the core challenge US prosperity and security face”.
This fundamental adjustment of the US global strategy reflects the reality that the shifting of the center of gravity in global development from West to East has entered the critical stage.
As a rising power China pursues international cooperation rather than forging alliances with other countries. It is willing to join efforts with the US in creating a new type of relationship between major powers while combining great national rejuvenation with promoting a shared future for mankind. The Trump administration pursues “America First” and would not be friendly with any country in its way, not even allies and much less countries it regards as challenging US hegemony, such as China and Russia.
Hong Kong is a small but very open economy heavily influenced by the West for more than one and a half centuries. The “one country, two systems” policy is designed to give Hong Kong a proper place in the State structure under China’s sovereignty but neither its formulation nor implementation has been free of China’s relations with Western countries, or Hong Kong’s connections with Western powers for that matter.
The US government started treating Hong Kong as part of China soon after the return of sovereignty and has been suspicious of and even guarded against investments by Hong Kong-based big companies. Meanwhile, because the exercise of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong in the early days saw more emphasis on “two systems” than “one country”, the US government meddled with Hong Kong’s internal affairs willfully all the time.
Today, the exercise of “one country, two systems” rightfully focuses on reminding people “one country” is the premise and basis of “two systems”. Now that the US has readjusted its global strategy and sees China as its main competitor, the special administrative region government and local society must face any new test or challenge coming their way together.
First, regarding China as the main competitor is a conclusion based on comprehensive assessment of the current situation by the US, not just around the world but also in every industry and sector of the economy. That is why the US government would not hesitate in obstructing investments by certain Hong Kong-based big companies regardless of where they are going. In the Belt and Road Initiative Hong Kong businesses are encouraged to “team up” with mainland counterparts to invest overseas; for doing so the US is likely to target them even more than before.
Second, Washington’s China strategy has focal areas all around the East Asian region, including Hong Kong. The situation in the Korean Peninsula may pass the point of no return any moment now and any bad move can seriously shake financial markets around the world, particularly in Asia. The “pro-independence” forces in Taiwan are becoming more desperate as we speak and everything they do next could change Hong Kong’s current position in the cross-Taiwan Straits relations.
Third, one of the “main theaters” where the US is to chase China as its top rival is international trade; the goal is to change not just the current bilateral trade pattern but also the pattern of multilateral trade worldwide in the US’ favor. When such arbitrary change happens, be it in the flow of trade or the game rules set by the World Trade Organization, Hong Kong’s external trade business will be adversely affected. External trade is a lifeline of Hong Kong’s economy and the well-being of the city’s residents in general is closely linked to it as well. No one should underestimate the danger of a trade war.
Fourth, the US does not want its economic interests in Hong Kong to be hurt badly by political turmoil — but lasting prosperity, stability and development in Hong Kong do not suit its China strategy either. That is why the US will not ease its meddling in Hong Kong’s internal affairs or hold back its support for anti-China and anti-communist elements in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong depended entirely on Western countries to boost its development for more than 30 years after World War II but that era ended when the reforms and opening-up started on the mainland in the early 1980s. While benefiting from the mainland’s phenomenal development, Hong Kong’s role as a bridge and intermediary between the mainland and Western economies since then has also experienced increasing tension. As the US becomes more and more hostile toward China, its so-called top rival, the tension Hong Kong feels will only grow from now on.
That is why, now more than ever, Hong Kong must take to heart that “one country” is the root and trunk of “two systems”, which are branches and leaves. The city must integrate its own development into the country’s overall strategy to sustain economic growth and rely on the country for its security.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 9, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, February 7, 2018)